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Butterworth leaves issue of county seat to courts

The attorney general suggests that a 20-year-old rule being used to interpret the status of a courthouse addition is outdated.

Add another element to the ongoing discussion about the county seat.

The Attorney General's Office, in an opinion issued last week, has suggested that state legislators revisit the law with which officials from Citrus County and Inverness have grappled for more than a year.

The seven-page opinion came in response to a question that the County Commission and the Inverness City Council asked Attorney General Bob Butterworth: Would a 40,000-square-foot addition to the new courthouse constitute, in the law's eyes, a "new" courthouse.

The county plans to build such an addition. But county officials are curious because, under state law, they cannot attempt to move the county seat if the county has constructed a new courthouse _ or substantially improved an existing courthouse to the point that the law would consider it "new" _ within the past 20 years.

Butterworth wrote that the courts, not him, would determine whether the addition would constitute a new courthouse and thus block any proposed relocation of the county seat.

The 20-year rule would not apply to a different portion of the law, which would allow the county to expand the county seat's boundaries to Lecanto, as has been proposed.

The commission is exploring such an expansion. Meantime, commissioners have agreed to stay in Inverness one more year.

In answering the question, Butterworth said he recognized that the population in west Citrus has grown through the years, to the point that "it is readily apparent that Lecanto would provide a more centralized location for county offices."

But Butterworth said the law, enacted during a time when Florida counties were more likely to have just one area of dense population, seems out of date today.

"While the County Commission is constrained to observe the statutory proscription . . . this office recognizes the need for legislative action to address what may be considered, in modern times, outdated provisions" of the law, Butterworth wrote.

State Rep. Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River, whose district includes all Citrus, said she would review the issue.

"I'm probably not going to get politically involved until I talk to some of the commissioners, City Council members and people," she said Monday afternoon. "I see both sides of this. There may be different circumstances in different counties."

_ Times staff writer Josh Zimmer contributed to this report.